Strange fatwas

The Darul Uloom Deoband is one of India's well-respected Islamic seminaries. Its fatwas against suicide attacks and its condemnation of the killing of innocent persons were most welcome. Of late it has issued fatwas that Muslim women should not work in offices where men too are employed and also that working in banks is un-Islamic. The Deoband has also declared that opting for an insurance policy is against the tenets of Islam because insurance policy is unlawful as it is based on interest and gambling. In the present age of trade and commerce and globalisation, do these fatwas make sense? Realistically, will they be implemented by Muslim business and industrial houses? Are these fatwas recommendatory or mandatory? What penalty can be imposed for their breach? What is the response of the Muslim business community and Muslim civil society? An enlightened Muslim, Javed Akhtar criticised these fatwas in moderate terms. The result was huge hate-mail and aspersions that he is an irreligious Muslim. Fortunately, there were voices in his support. More such voices are needed. These fatwas do no good to the Muslim community. They offer fodder to those who wish to defame Islam. The Deoband, which is highly regarded even by non-Muslims, may shed light on the subject in the interest of its own credibility.

SC judgment on Khushboo

It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court judgment in Khushboo's case has been grossly misunderstood by some well-meaning persons as promoting immorality by encouraging live-in relationship and pre-marital sex. The judgment does nothing of the sort. It recognises that in India marriage is an important social institution and that the mainstream view in our society is that sexual contact should take place only between marital partners. But as pointed out by Justice Dr. B.S. Chauhan speaking for the Bench, live-in marriages and engaging in sexual relations outside the marital setting, with the exception of adultery, is not an offence. Besides, in the societal mainstream, there is a significant number of people who see nothing wrong in engaging in premarital sex. Notions of social morality are subjective. Criminal law cannot be used to interfere with the domain of personal autonomy when the acts complained of are not offences. The thrust of the judgment is that "we must lay stress on the need to tolerate unpopular views in the socio-cultural space. Under our democratic constitutional scheme different views are allowed to be expressed by the proponents and opponents". Expression of opinion, which is contrary to conventional notions of decency and morality, has to be tolerated and the same cannot be a ground to penalise the author. Viewed in proper perspective, the judgment highlights the need for tolerance, deprecates moral policing and attempts by intolerant bigots to penalise people holding contrary views by recourse to criminal law. And therein lies the real merit of the judgment.

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